Loading Hands for Batters
Baseball and Fastpitch Softball
This Loading Hands for Baseball and Fastpitch Softball article was excerpted from our new book, The Ultimate Hitting Fundamentals, Techniques, and Strategy Guide (click for book details).
The where and how baseball and softball hitters move their hands from a neutral position in front of the rear shoulder, in their stance, to a separated (muscle stretched, loaded) hitting position varies significantly among successful hitters. The where and how should be Fit to Player and support the type of hitter they are or want to be.
For recommendations on how and when to use various training methods (dry, heavy bag, pylos, tee, toss, live, machine, etc.) and to shop for effective and durable training equipment, click on the link Hitting Training Methods and Aids.
Elements of Loading Hands
Here are a few significant attributes that may be useful when evaluating the way baseball and fastpitch softball hitters load hands:
- The quickness of the swing (click for how to measure quickness). See section below, Components of a Quick Batting Swing, for further discussion.
- The distance that is available for the barrel to be accelerated. The more rearward the hands load, the larger the distance.
- The degree of muscle stretching and torque. Once the hitter’s front foot hits the ground and their hands remain back from where the load took them, tension builds across the upper torso. This tension is like a stretched rubber band that allows for a violent reaction toward the ball. The more pressure created, the higher potential early bat speed.
- The lower body must have time to work against the ground and prepare to transfer energy up the kinetic chain.
- The point arms and hands become connected to shoulder rotation. The hitter can feel that when hands load more rearward, the arms and hands are torqued by the shoulders earlier in rotation.
- The hitter must have room to get their swing path on the same plane as the pitch trajectory (click on our free article Swing in the Plane of the Pitch). This can be problematic with a short swing.
- Is the barrel inside the path of the ball until it reaches the hitting zone? When hitters load hands more away from their body and toward the plate, the hand path required to square up the inside pitch and keep it fair is more complex Often the youth hitter is “around the ball” before the swing even begins.
Components of a Quick Batting Swing
Let’s look at two separate but sequential components that make up a “short” or “long” swing:
- Pre-Launch Time – The time required for the movements from stance to launch position (at stride toe touch just before the barrel begins traversing to the hitting zone) to execute.
A more aggressive rear weight shift, bigger stride, longer approach, front side in (rear hip cock), loading hands further rearward, etc., all take more time. Therefore, the hitter must adjust timing to begin movements slightly earlier (at an earlier point synced with the pitcher or ball travel) to compensate.
- Time to Contact – The time from launch (swing commitment) until contact.
The time to contact metric (provided by bat sensors) measures the time, beginning when the barrel starts to move towards the hitting zone (at launch) until the bat reaches the ball. Time to contact is affected by:
- The degree of early bat speed.
- The swing arc radius.
- Where contact occurs, inner zone (deep) vs. outer (out front).
Time to contact (ToC) is the primary indicator of quickness.
ToC reflects the time the hitter has to make a swing commitment.
Bat sensors are affordable and practical.
Use a sensor whenever swing adjustments are being experimented with.
Objectively measure whether the hitter is quicker or not by the ToC metric from the sensor.
A Short Hitting Swing (in Distance) May Take Longer (in Time)
A commonly accepted concept of a “short” swing includes a set of mechanics where:
- The hands load in front of the rear shoulder, outside the toe line (see loading options in the section below – Where to Load Hands).
- Hands “hammer” the handle directly forward to an out-front contact point (click on our debate article Out Front Hitting vs Let the Ball Travel?).
- Shortened gather, stride, and approach movements.
- The stride foot gets down early to avoid being late.
Here are the actualities:
- The time to contact is longer when contact is out front. Moreover, the further out front, the earlier the hitter must commit – they are more often “fooled” by off-speed. Striving to hit the ball out-front gives the pitcher a considerable advantage.
- The time to contact is longer since bat speed is slower early in the swing. This is because the arms are thrusting the hands forward instead of letting the legs, core, and shoulders utilize accumulated momentum to speed up the barrel quickly (early bat speed).
- There are issues with swing plane (attack angle) and swing patterns (pulling) that affect productivity.
When to Load Hands
Hands load rearward as the stride foot moves forward toward the pitcher (Separation)
In sports, integrated back-and-through (pendulum) motions increase momentum and speed. Just like swinging an ax, going back with the hands as part of the swing motion “loads up” the muscles producing a faster forward motion.
It is crucial to execute the back-and-through, hand-loading movement in a fluid tempo with no breaks.
To do this, the hitter does not load hands early, during the gather phase (rear weight shift). Instead, for higher bat speed, the hitter’s hands remain in front of the rear shoulder until the stride and separate phase begins.
Where to Load Hands
Hitters vary considerably in the location where their hands arrive when fully loaded. Adjustments in this area may have dramatic effects, good or bad, depending on the specific hitter.
Take time to experiment with the various options. Utilize slow-motion video, bat speed or ball exit speed radars, and game-like rehearsal to gather objective information and analyze the effect (click the link for how to analytically assess a hitter) of changing loading location.
Here is a checklist of loading positions, ordered from least (shortest) to most aggressive (longest):
- Flat Bat
The flat-bat style of hitting emphasizes bringing the barrel to the hitting zone in an extremely short and compact stroke (image above). There is no inward turn. Hands begin outside the toe line and never load. The swing is a half-swing. While ball exit velocity suffers, flat-bat is the absolute best insurance against striking out.
Chinning, in hitting position, occurs when the hitter’s hands load tight to the hitter’s rear shoulder, relatively closer to the batter’s chin. Lead arm bend/flex is maintained at ninety degrees or more. Chinning creates a very compact swing by shortening the distance to the hitting zone. The downside is decreased bat speed (click for how to measure and track bat speed) due to reduced hand and foot separation (muscle stretching) and late connection to rotation. Chinning can be a practical two-strike approach.
- Load Hands Outside Toe Line
Loading hands outside the toe line (between the plate and the line made between the toes) is a strategy to shorten the swing. Little if any inward turn is utilized. Hands move to 4+ ball distance from the rear shoulder, locating the hands outside the toe line.
Here are two expected benefits asserted by outside the toe line advocates:
- Shorter is quicker, increasing decision time and allowing the hitter to commit at a later point.
- Avoids spinning out.
Coaches who teach shortening the loading of hands outside the toe line believe this method reduces or eliminates the problem of spinning out. The hitter is less likely to cut off the outside corner with the swing path. The rotational impetus of the upper body and hands from a more fully loaded position (inside the toe line) is the culprit, causing the spinning out.
But, here are some crucial concepts to remember:
- Outside Toe Line Creates Late Connection to Rotation.
When hands load outside the toe line, arms and hands do not kinetically connect to the rotating core and shoulders until late. When hitters more aggressively load hands, they feel the earlier pulling action. Energy is transferring from shoulders to arms earlier in the swing boosting early bat speed. A reduction in early bat speed generally results when hands load outside the toe line. Use early bat speed and ball exit speed measurements to objectively confirm (click Bat Speed: Measurement and Speed by Age).
- Outside Toe Line Promotes an Out-to-In Swing Path (Around the Ball).
Loading hands outside the toe line put the hands very close to hovering over the strike zone’s inside corner as the swing begins. It is challenging for developing hitters to maintain the barrel inside the ball’s path from this load position. Inexperienced hitters are usually around the ball, consistently pulling the inside pitch foul.
- Outside Toe Line Prohibits the Hitter From Being Athletic.
“Keep your hands still … not too much movement … dead hands … as you stride, hands don’t go back … no inward turn … keep hands in front of the rear foot.”
Sometimes coaches are too afraid of movement. Most great hitters have strong natural tendencies for rhythm in their arms and hands. They know what it feels like to throw a ball for long-distance. Don’t teach the athleticism out of a hitter without objectively measuring power and productivity (see Loading Hands Drills on the bottom of this article).
- Shorter Is Not Always Quicker!
Early bat speed is a time reducer, more than making up for any slightly longer movements. Improvements in early bat speed allow the hitter more time to make a swing decision before committing, less likely to be late on the inside fastball, and more productive on off-speed and movement pitches. Use the time to contact measurement from a bat sensor to verify how quick the hitter’s swing really is.
Speed overcomes increased length making the hitter more powerful AND quicker.
- Load Hands On Toe Line
Most High-Level hitters separate hands to a position where their hands are over the line made between the toes. To accomplish this dynamic and productive load of hands requires a 20-degree inward turn of the shoulders. Hands move to a position about two balls from the rear shoulder. The hitter also maintains the flex in the lead arm at approximately 35-degrees (a straight arm would be zero degrees flex).
Developing hitters, as well as the more experienced, can be successful with loading Hands On Toe Line because:
- It is a good compromise between ultimate power and a compact swing.
- It promotes keeping the barrel inside the path of the pitch as the swing begins.
- Load Hands Inside Toe Line
Hitters who prioritize power load hands inside the toe line by coiling inward at least 30-degrees, reducing flex in the lead arm to 15 to 25-degrees, and locating hands (when fully loaded) directly behind the rear foot.
- Arm Bar
A few elite power hitters separate hands even further behind their rear foot (toward the catcher) to increase 1) the connection to shoulder rotation and 2) room to accelerate the barrel. These hitters are striving for maximum bat speed and power. Due to the increased length of the swing, armbar hitters must diligently train complex methods to cover all pitches in the strike zone:
- Some armbar hitters increase the bend/flex in the lead arm when identifying inside pitch location.
- Other armbar hitters maintain the armbar but rotate the lead shoulder higher than ninety degrees (to the plate) at contact. In other words, they get the barrel to the inside pitch by utilizing early and extensive shoulder rotation (spinning).
Objectively determine whether the armbar increases power by analyzing bat speed and ball exit velocity.
Armbar is not a productive option for most hitters, especially youth.
How to Load Hands
Great hitters also vary in the techniques they use to load hands. Here is a checklist of movement paths that can be Fit to Player:
- “Rock the V.”
A simple but effective method to separate hands and create muscle tension is to “rock the V.” To rock the V, the hitter begins by positioning their arms, in their stance, in an upside-down “V.” Then, as the hitter strides, the ^ is rocked rearward, keeping the distance between elbows and the degree of arm flex static. The rear elbow loads parallel to the ground, and the front elbow moves to a fist distance from the hitter’s chest and points down. These movements stretch the shoulder and oblique muscles, ready to “snap the rubber band.” Rock the V is the recommended loading technique to teach developing hitters.
- Combined with a small degree of inward shoulder turn, rock the V moves the knob of the bat in a tight rearward arc to a point on the toe line.
- The height of the hands is at or slightly above the top of the strike zone.
- To enhance back-and-through momentum, perform rock the V in fluid tempo.
- “Walk Away From Hands.”
An oft-used verbal cue, “walk away from hands,” reminds hitters to feel their hands separating. Hands remain in the same location relative to the ground while the rest of the torso moves forward during the approach. Don’t push hands back; step away from hands to separate.
- Walking away can result in the hitter unintentionally barring the lead arm. Ask the hitter to maintain a stable flex in the lead arm.
- Walking away can result in hands staying outside the toe line as they load – this may or may not be desirable.
- Big Turn.
A popular loading technique used by elite power hitters is the big turn. With the big turn, the hitter turns the front shoulder into the plate up to forty-five degrees. Hands load inside the toe line. Big turn can be done as part of gather or during the loading of hands. When done as a part of loading hands, extreme muscle stretching results if the shoulders continue to counter-rotate as core rotation begins.
Discourage most developing hitters against adopting a big turn. Potential issues are:
- The hitter’s head turns with the shoulders hiding one eye from seeing the ball at release and during initial travel.
- A circular swing path with no linear extension.
- “Spinning off” outside and off-speed pitches.
- Inconsistent Timing.
- Loading Hands in Stance.
A few strong hitters separate their hands in their stance; hands fully load before any movement begins. Little or no relocation of hands occurs during gather, stride, separate, and approach. The swing is shorter as there is no rearward move of hands. But, the lack of back-and-through, momentum-building stretching of muscles likely reduces bat speed. Check this with a radar.
A few elite hitters hitch. Hitching occurs when the hitter brings their hands extensively downward and then back up when loading. The primary issue with hitching is that hands never come back up. Instead, they remain below the top of the strike zone resulting in an overly upward swing path on high pitches.
Developing hitters should avoid the habit of hitching.
- Vertical Bat Tilt
To execute vertical bat tilt, the hitter “stacks” the bat’s barrel over hands until just before launch. The idea is to leave space to get the barrel moving early.
Vertical bat tilt is one part of a three-part strategy. The hitter uses 1) a vertical bat angle in their stance, 2) a vertical bat tilt loading method (as defined in this section), and 3) pre-launch torque (find a drill to train pre-launch torque in The Ultimate Hitting Training Guide, Tool XXI: Experimental Arms and Hands Drills, Drill III – Pre-Launch Torque (PLT) Experimentation Drill).
As hands separate (load), hitters pull back the rear forearm and elbow, like an archer pulling back on the bowstring. The rear elbow stays very bent; the top hand palm faces the pitcher; the bottom hand palm faces the catcher. These hand positions keep the barrel “stacked” over hands until pre-launch torque is applied.
Hitters using vertical bat tilt and pre-launch torque get the barrel moving early. The barrel gains momentum in a small semi-circle before slotting into the correct plane for the swing. The idea is that the “race car” (barrel) can go faster on a mile track than a quarter-mile. But the longer and “loopy” swing path add complexity to timing since the barrel gains speed before front heel plant.
The athletic and experienced hitter striving to maximize bat speed (click link for how to measure and track bat speed improvements) may be the right candidate for experimenting with vertical bat tilt in conjunction with pre-launch torque.
- Rear Shoulder Row (Scap Load).
Rear shoulder row is an advanced power generating technique. Hitters can intensify hip and shoulder separation by counter-rotating the hips forward as the inward turn continues to move the rear shoulder away from the plate (find a drill to train rear shoulder row in The Ultimate Hitting Training Guide, Tool XIX: Experimental Shoulders and Head Drills, Drill I – Shoulder Row (Scap) Load) Experimentation Drill)
Loading Hands for Developing Hitters
Separate hands is a fundamental where ineffective habits or methods that are not an excellent Fit to Player can lead to swing issues such as casting, poor plate coverage, reduced bat speed, and inconsistent timing. Building Rome Series recommends developing (middle school) hitters construct Hands On Toe Line separation and Rock the V loading.
Developing hitters should learn to load hands on the toe line until they are stronger and more experienced. Then experiment with other loading locations and methods.
Loading Hands for Experienced Hitters
When experimenting with various strategies for separating hands, the following indicators can help experienced hitters evaluate where and how to load hands:
- Increase in bat speed.
- Increase in ball exit speed.
- More hard-hit balls to the middle of the field.
- Confidence turning on inside fastballs.
- Improved ability to adjust for off-speed pitches.
- The hitter feels powerful.
Loading Hands Drills
The following drills are among the 140 function drills included in The Ultimate Hitting Training Guide:
- Tool XII: Experimental Loading Hands Drills, Drill I – Inside, On, and Outside Toe Line Experimentation Drill.
- Tool XII: Experimental Loading Hands Drills, Drill II – Front to Rear Positioning of Hands in Stance Experimentation Drill
- Tool XII: Experimental Loading Hands Drills, Drill III – Loading Methods Experimentation Drill.
- Tool XII: Experimental Loading Hands Drills, Drill IV – Arm Bar Experimentation Drill.
- Tool XIII: Universal Loading Hands Drills, Drill III – Rear Elbow Angle at Launch Drill.
- Philosopher Lesson IV: Fix Hitching.
- Philosopher Lesson V: Fix Bat Drag.
- Philosopher Lesson VII: Fix Dipping.
Building Rome Series Books: Building the High-Level Swing Series
Click Building the High-Level Swing Series to learn more about our new two-book hitting series containing a detailed and comprehensive description of 100 hitting fundamentals and 140 step-by-step drills that efficiently construct the batting swing from the ground up.
In the Building Rome Series of books, the construction of skills are in functional order, providing a “roadmap” to becoming a great hitter.
All baseball and fastpitch softball players can “climb the Roman Coliseum steps” to become powerful and productive hitters.
Enjoy the quest!